Fr Christian de Chergé, Superior of his monastery and one of the seven French Trappists killed by Algerian terrorists in 1996, wrote a last testament to be opened in the event of his death. This is it.
If it should happen one day – and it could be today – that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this kind of brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: that I might be found worthy of such an offering. I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths which were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other; nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in our world, even in that which would strike me blindly.
I should like, when the time comes, to have time enough for me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and, at the same time to forgive, with all my heart, the one who would strike me down.
It seems important to state that I do not desire such a death. In fact, I. do not see how I could rejoice if this people, whom I love, were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called ‘the grace of martyrdom’, to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I know the scorn with which Algerians as a whole can be regarded. I know also the caricature of Islam which a certain kind of idealism encourages. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: they are a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough in the sure knowledge of what I have received from it. In Algeria and in the respect of believing Muslims I have found that true strand of the Gospel learnt at my mother’s knee, my own first Church.
My death, clearly, will appear to justify. those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic – ‘Now let him tell us what he thinks of it!’ But these people must realise that my most avid curiosity will then be satisfied. This is what I shall be able to do – God willing – immerse my gaze in that of the Father, contemplating with him his children of Islam, just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of his Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to
establish communion and to re-fashion the likeness, delighting in the differences of all ‘people.
For this life given up, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that joy – in everything and in spite of everything.
In this thank you, encompassing everything in my life from now on, I include you, my friends of yesterday and today, and you my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my brothers and sisters and their families: the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this thank you – and this adieu – to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours. And may we find each other, happy ‘good thieves’, in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.
Algiers, 1 December 1993 – Tibherine, 1 January 1994
This article first appeared in Mission Outlook, a publication of the Trappist Monks at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Leicestershire and subsequently in the Pastoral Renewal Exchange (September 2004).